Rhyme, repetition and rhythm make for a simple, but true story about the power of conscience, all done up by William Wordsworth in a little iambic pentameter, more or less, in abab rhyme.
The truth arises from a case story related by Erasmus Darwin. “A young farmer in Warwickshire, finding his hedges broke, and the sticks carried away during a frosty season, determined to watch for the thief.” Zoonomia, Vol. II, page 146.
Truth is a powerful tool. So, lest we fall victim to the truth of the matter, let us have some compassion for those less fortunate. Remember a chilly conscience does not warm the soul.
GOODY BLAKE AND HARRY GILL
A TRUE STORY, by William Wordsworth, 1798
OH! what’s the matter? what’s the matter?
What is’t that ails young Harry Gill?
That evermore his teeth they chatter,
Chatter, chatter, chatter still!
Of waistcoats Harry has no lack,
Good duffle grey, and flannel fine;
He has a blanket on his back,
And coats enough to smother nine.
But when the ice our streams did fetter,
Oh then how her old bones would shake!
You would have said, if you had met her,
‘Twas a hard time for Goody Blake.
Her evenings then were dull and dead:
Sad case it was, as you may think,
For very cold to go to bed;
And then for cold not sleep a wink.
O joy for her! whene’er in winter
The winds at night had made a rout;
And scattered many a lusty splinter
And many a rotten bough about.
Yet never had she, well or sick,
As every man who knew her says,
A pile beforehand, turf or stick,
Enough to warm her for three days.
Now Harry he had long suspected
This trespass of old Goody Blake;
And vowed that she should be detected–
That he on her would vengeance take.
And oft from his warm fire he’d go,
And to the fields his road would take;
And there, at night, in frost and snow,
He watched to seize old Goody Blake.
Right glad was he when he beheld her:
Stick after stick did Goody pull:
He stood behind a bush of elder,
Till she had filled her apron full.
When with her load she turned about,
The by-way back again to take;
He started forward, with a shout,
And sprang upon poor Goody Blake.
And fiercely by the arm he took her,
And by the arm he held her fast,
And fiercely by the arm he shook her,
And cried, “I’ve caught you then at last!”–
Then Goody, who had nothing said,
Her bundle from her lap let fall;
And, kneeling on the sticks, she prayed
To God that is the judge of all.
She prayed, her withered hand uprearing,
While Harry held her by the arm–
“God! who art never out of hearing,
O may he never more be warm!”
The cold, cold moon above her head,
Thus on her knees did Goody pray;
Young Harry heard what she had said:
And icy cold he turned away.
He went complaining all the morrow
That he was cold and very chill:
His face was gloom, his heart was sorrow,
Alas! that day for Harry Gill!
That day he wore a riding-coat,
But not a whit the warmer he:
Another was on Thursday brought,
And ere the Sabbath he had three.
‘Twas all in vain, a useless matter,
And blankets were about him pinned;
Yet still his jaws and teeth they clatter;
Like a loose casement in the wind.
And Harry’s flesh it fell away;
And all who see him say, ’tis plain,
That, live as long as live he may,
He never will be warm again.
No word to any man he utters,
A-bed or up, to young or old;
But ever to himself he mutters,
“Poor Harry Gill is very cold.”
A-bed or up, by night or day;
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
Now think, ye farmers all, I pray,
Of Goody Blake and Harry Gill!